The origin of…Future

“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.” Albert Camus


Due to the unavoidability of the future, everything that exists at this moment and will exist in the future can be seen as permanent (it will exist for the whole of the future) or as temporary (it will come to an end at some point in the future).

In the philosophy of time the term presentism is the belief that the future and the past are unreal and that only the present exists.

Saint Augustine (354-430), also known as Augustine of Hippo or Saint Austin), a Christian theologian and philosopher, believed that God exists outside of time in the eternal present and that time only exists within the created universe. He wrote in The Confessions:” How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet? As for the present, if it were always present and never moved on to become the past, it would not be time, but eternity.”
He argued that the time triad, past, present and future, are realities in the mind. The present is a transitory notice (attention), the past is experienced through present recollection of it (memory) and the future we know only as an expectation (expectation).
Another presentist philosopher was Fyodor Shcherbatskoy (1866-1942) who has written extensively on Buddhist presentism in Buddhist Logic Vol. 2 (1930): “Everything past is unreal, everything future is unreal, everything imagined, absent, mental… is unreal… Ultimately real is only the present moment of physical efficiency.” Buddhist teaching encourages people to focus on the present moment, the now, since that is the only thing that really matters.

A few problems present themselves with presentism, however, like the flow of time. If past events are unreal, what are we referring to when we speak of past events? If there are no events occurring in the past or the future, then how does time pass? Eternalism solves these problems by arguing that all points in time (past, present and future) are equally real. It gives time a similar ontology to that of space and it is just another dimension. It is also known as the Block Time or Block Universe theory since al the points in space-time are part of a four-dimensional block that is fixed and cannot be changed (as opposed to the three-dimensional space regulated by the passing of time). The problem with this theory is the concept of free will. If everything is already fixed in the future, how can people make conscious choices about their future?
Eternalism fits with Einstein´s special relativity, in which the present is not an absolute element of reality: “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” He argues there is no flow of time and it is just something in our minds. Our brains are simply not capable of grasping the true nature of time and making a distinction between past, present and future seems to be part of our survival strategy (learning from the past and planning for the future).

More reading:


  1. the period of time that will come after the present time
  2. the condition or situation of someone or something in the time that will come (source: Merriam Webster).

The English future, Spanish future and Italian futuro come from Latin futurus, going to be/about to be, irregular suppletive future participle of esse, to be, from the Proto Indo European root *bheue-, to be.
Dutch toekomst comes from Middle Dutch toecomste, visit/haven/occurrence, from Late Middle High German, zukunft, future, from Middle High German zuokonft, arrival/result.

Future in other languages:
Dutch: de toekomst
Spanish: el futuro
Italian: il futuro

Picture: Jazz super yacht designed by Zaha Hadid


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